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Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

By: Daniel Pink

Reviewed By: Ramona Sukhraj

When it first aired, I was a huge fan of The Apprentice.

You know the reality show where people competed for a job at one of Donald Trump's organizations. 

Granted, now it would probably be my worst nightmare, back then I used to dream of scoring that job. Even the opening segment and theme music got me pumped.

"Money, money, money, money, money, MON-EYY."

The song set the stage for what the show was all about; what every contestant was after. A high salary, bonuses; that’s what all top-performers are motivated by, right?

Wrong again, Donald.

Money is certainly a motivator in business, but contrary to what we’ve always been taught to believe, it alone doesn’t have the power to bring out the best performance in employees.

The science behind motivation shows that motivating others is a complex endeavor that requires several different variables to be in place (including money).

In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink does a fantastic job of breaking down common misconceptions about motivation and explaining why the old strategies for are failing with the new millennial workforce.

Even if you don’t manage employees yourself, I still recommend this book just for the sake of understanding your own motivation.

Pink digs deep into the psychology behind what drives us in our jobs as human beings, not just professionals and it’s an interesting read for anyone looking to better understand themselves and their teammates.

Early Theories of Motivation

As businesses expanded after the Industrial revolution, they needed to find a way to improve the productivity of their workers to maximize profits and beat the competition.

They needed a system that would allow them to keep hundreds (or thousands) of employees motivated and working to the best of their ability. That's where these early theories of motivation came from. 

The Carrot-and-Stick Approach

In the early 1900’s, Frederick Taylor theorized the concept of scientific management.

Based on the premise that “all work consists largely of simple, uninteresting tasks," he believed the only viable method to get people to perform was to offer a proper incentive and monitor them carefully. He called it the carrot-and-stick approach.

Going off of the psychological theory of operant conditioning, in this approach, you must reward positive behavior and punish the negative to get the most productivity out of your employees.

This approach assumes that the primary driver of human behavior is a response to rewards and punishments in our environment.

In Pink's book, he notes that this theory assumes “human beings aren’t much different from horses -- that the way to get us moving in the right direction is by dangling a crunchier carrot or wielding a sharper stick.” -- hence its name. 

As they tested it, scientists continued to encounter scenarios where this reward and punishment drive didn’t produce the expected results.

This lead to the theory that there may be a possible third drive for human behavior.

Intrinsic Motivation: The Third Driver

It was already well documented in science that the two primary drivers for human behavior were a biological drive and a reward-punishment drive.

The biological drive includes hunger, thirst, and sex, but in 1949, Harry Harlow, a psychology professor, proposed that there was a third drive -- the joy of doing the task itself, also known as intrinsic motivation.

Harlow based his theory on his observations of studying the behavior of primates when solving puzzles.

He found that some monkeys solved the puzzles quicker than the monkeys who were rewarded with food. These monkeys seemed to enjoy solving the puzzle without any expectation of a reward -- suggesting they were driven by intrinsic motivation. 

These same findings were later replicated in a 1969 study by Edward Deci, who concluded that humans have an “inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise their capabilities, to explore, and to learn.” 

Why Dangling the Carrot Doesn’t Always Work

No one can deny that rewards are tempting, but the general conclusion was that the carrot-and-stick approach doesn't always work.

It turns out this approach only works well for basic, straightforward tasks that don’t require any kind of creative thinking.

In the early 20th century, most people had manual labor jobs that consisted of simple, routine tasks.

In the 21st century, however, jobs have become much more complex and mentally challenging than ever before. (Just think about the diverse, demanding roles of inbound marketers!)

Interestingly enough, Pink notes that with many of the jobs today, traditional rewards even have a tendency to lead to less of the desired behavior and more of what employers don’t want.

He shares that the traditional approach can result in:

  • Decreased intrinsic motivation
  • Decreased performance
  • Narrowed focus
  • Diminished creativity
  • Decreased cooperation
  • Unethical behaviour
  • Increased risk taking
  • Addictions
  • Short-term thinking

Now, it’s not that rewards are bad. (I mean, who doesn't like a treat?)

But they can cloud your thinking. 

Rewards can be distracting, but for routine tasks that aren’t interesting and don’t require creative thinking or brain power, rewards provide a motivational boost without harmful side effects. 

Solving problems or handling tasks that require thought and creativity, need focus.

When the reward is something other than solving the problem, it slows down productivity, because the mind is focused only on the desired outcome.

Applying the Self-Determination Theory to Your Business

So, all of this information is interesting, but I know what you're thinking: what can it actually do for you?

Pink suggests a revised theory to motivate employees in the modern, millennial-drive world -- the Self-Determination Theory (SDT).

The basis of SDT is that humans have an innate drive to be:

  • Autonomous
  • Self-determined
  • Connected to one another

According to Pink, when SDT becomes a part of a company’s culture, people achieve more and live richer lives.

To achieve this, he suggests that organizations create a system that relies on three elements:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Mastery
  3. Purpose

In others, they must create a culture where employees can direct their own day-to-day tasks, have the opportunity to learn and improve, and are provided a way to better the world around them.

By implementing these three elements into your company culture, you can increase productivity and job-satisfaction of your employees.

1. Autonomy

You want to provide employees with autonomy over some (or all) of the four main aspects of their work:

A. Time and Schedule - Consider switching to a ROWE (results-only work environment) which focuses more on the output than the schedule. Allow employees to have flexibility over when they finish tasks.

B. Technique - Don’t tell employees how to complete their tasks. Provide initial guidance and allow them to tackle the project in the way they see fit, as opposed to following a strict procedure.

C. Teamwork - Allow employees some choice over who they work with and who is hired. If it’s not appropriate to involve them in the recruitment process, allow employees to work on open-source projects where they have the ability to assemble their own teams.

D. Tasks - Allow employees to have regular “creative days” where they can work on any project they want.

(There is empirical evidence from company's like Google and 3M which show that new innovations are often discovered during this creative free time.)

2. Mastery

To embrace mastery at your organization, allow employees to improve their skills that matter to them by doing the following: 

Create a “mastery environment” - To foster an environment of learning and development, four essentials are required: autonomy (which we described above), clear goals (so they know what they're working towards), immediate feedback (so they know what they're doing right or wrong), and Goldilocks tasks. 

Assign “Goldilocks tasks” - Pink uses the term “Goldilocks tasks” to describe tasks which are neither overly difficult nor overly simple.

The risk of providing tasks that fall short of an employee’s capabilities is boredom and the risk of providing tasks that exceed their capabilities is anxiety. By not going too far in either direction, you allow team member to develop their skills further

3. Purpose

To instill a culture of purpose, make an effort to fulfill team member's natural desire to contribute to a cause greater than themselves. You must:

Communicate the purpose - Employees should understand your organization’s purpose goals, in addition to your profit goals.

Employees that understand the purpose and vision of their organization and how their individual roles contribute to this purpose are more likely to be happy with their job.

Focus equally on purpose and profits - Research shows that the attainment of profit goals has no impact on a person’s well-being and actually contributes to their ill-being.

Organizational goals should focus on purpose, as well as profit.

Many successful companies now are actually using profit to pursue a purpose, instead of seeking profit as the end-goal.

Use purposeful language - Speak about the company as a united team using words such as “us” and “we."

This inspires employees to talk about the company in the same manner, feel connected, and united.

Key Takeaway

Companies with the most driven and satisfied employees are those who balance intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

We all like to make money, but past a certain point we all, especially millennials, also need something more to keep us deeply motivated.

Employees want to feel valued beyond their paycheck and they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

If your company can provide that kind of environment, you’ll have a team of people invested just as much in your success, as they are in their own.